WITH CIVIC ELECTIONS LOOMING, and finding itself in a confrontationist posture, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) has finally found an opportunity to hark back to its glorious history. Hence Sukhbir Singh Badal’s decision to observe the 97th anniversary of the Shiromani Akali Dal on December 14, 2017 at Diwan Hall, Gurudwara Manji Sahib, Sri Darbar Sahib, Amritsar.
Apart from the appropriateness of a political party choosing to observe its anniversary at a gurdwara, perilously close to violating the standing guidelines of the Supreme Court as well as the provisions of the Representation of People’s Act, 1951, the very fact that the exercise is being clearly seen in conjunction with the local bodies’ elections shows the SAD leadership tilts towards the panth only when its political hold is threatened.
The Badal duo is most fortunate in keeping a tight grip on the party since there hardly seems to be a second rung of leadership that has come up on its own. Virtually all senior leaders owe their position to the House of Badals, the Brahmpuras, Bhoonders, Dhindsas included.
Normally, a defeat so massive would have either spurred the party into introspection, or at least a charade of introspection. A chintan-meeting in Shimla, or perhaps at Sukh Vilas.
That is the reason the Akali Dal has not undergone a churning and a phase of introspection even after the humiliating defeat in the 2017 elections when it came a poor third, winning even lesser seats than a ragtag AAP.
Normally, a defeat so massive would have either spurred the party into some introspection, or at least to enact a charade of introspection. Like all other political parties, Akali Dal also used to hold its chintan-meetings at one or the other hotel. Last time it was Shimla, next time it could be Sukh Vilas. But after the 2017 defeat, Sukhbir Singh Badal did not deem it necessary.
Clearly, he knows there’s no one in the party who could seriously question the leadership. So, Akali Dal simply failed to take cognisance of the fact that it got a bloody nose in the polls after ten years of vikas of super highways, airports, malls, air conditioned bus stands and sewa kenders.
The father stopped having sangat darshans, and no one challenged the son to a leadership duel.
This is how the party now works:
The system of a core committee, a working committee, a political affairs committee or whatever else committee expressing full faith in the high command continues. Third rung comrades do not have the gumption to question why The Leader is selected and not elected. Being seen with The Leader on a stage is peddled as their achievement. For such a photo-op, the minions obediently gather around The Leader. Now, The Leader utters some inanity about a new comer opposition party. The third-rung hordes waiting at the gates chirp in unison. The Leader remains plastered on hoardings across Punjab.
Clearly, Sukhbir knows there’s no one in the Akali Dal who could seriously question the leadership. So, the party simply did not take cognisance of the fact that it got a bloody nose in the polls after ten years of vikas of super highways, airports, malls, air conditioned bus stands and sewa kenders.
The Leader stamps his authority by declaring that district commissioners and senior police officers still attend to his phone calls. The minions are awestruck by the omnipotence of their leader. The Leader sits on a dharna. The friendly ruler enacts a sham. The Leader declares victory. The minions are now convinced that The Leader is omnipotent.
These minions have no ambition to matter in the scheme of things. They merely want to be able to pretend that they matter in the scheme of things. They are frequently reminded of their utter dependence for security and survival on The Leader. "Call me if anyone torments you,” The Leader tells them. Now that he was seen sitting on a dharna all through the night, and even declared victory (without achieving anything), the minions are convinced even more.
It is the same pattern that The Leader adopted during his years in power. He would pass the crumbs around, very carefully, making the minions first fight for it, and then be grateful when they get a morsel. For how else will the morsel look big if the minions do not fight for it? And the leader knows how to keep such fights going. Holding back the morsels is one way. Letting know that more morsels are on the way is another.
Minion A becomes a halqa-incharge. Minion B is promised he will be made one if Minion A fails. Minion C hopes both pull each other down. All minions are also selected by The Leader. Lesser minions insert advertisements and put up flex hoardings to proclaim their direct link with Minion A or Minion B.
The elder one stopped having sangat darshans, and no one challenged the younger one to a leadership duel.
The Leader, meanwhile, has many favours to bestow. Such as choosing to have a cup of tea with a wanna-be Minion C. This is projected by the house-trained media as a major political move. Dropping in on a marriage ceremony to bless the newlyweds is considered a hallmark of the humility of The Leader.
The minions then emulate The Leader. Everyone has read the signal. Follow The Leader, follow The Leader's actions, follow his pretences, too. Follow his shams, his theatre, his Punch and Judy act through the maze of politics.
The Leader, meanwhile, practices the art of survival. He is hailed for being a survivor. But no one mentions that the survival is because of his immense capacity to shun principles.
The Leader calls his political alliance a Fraternal Alliance. The desperateness earlier used to take him to sundry havans, yagyas, aartis, poojas. He was routinely spotted at the darbar of one or the other satguru. Satgurus have massive and captive vote banks.
The minions are awestruck by the omnipotence of their leader. The Leader sits on a dharna. The friendly ruler enacts a sham. The Leader declares victory. The minions are now convinced that The Leader is omnipotent. He wants 97th. Everyone gears up for 97th. No one asks why wasn’t there a 96th anniversary, or 95th, or 94th, or…?
The politics of The Leader becomes a game of clever formulations. Earlier, he talked about higher MSP of crops, international airports, thermal plants. Now, it is about river waters, Chandigarh, attack on SGPC, zulm on his minions. If things do not work out, The Leader may be forced to pull out the 1980s card: the Azad Hasti of the Sikhs! As it is, he is already with you on this momentous occasion of 97th anniversary of the great party. He knows there is no one in the party who will ask where everyone was when it was 96th anniversary, or 95th, or 94th, or…?
When the party of history came to power, it dumped the history. Forgot the legacy. Trashed its own struggle. Became the party of airports and Progressive Punjab summits and cheque distribution at Sangat Darshans and managing administration through halqa-incharges. Out of power, it merely wants to put up a show of being the opposition but basically wants to merely wait it out.
Minions, too, wait. And as they wait, they hail The Leader. The Leader is now too big. He is a monolith. He is such a burden and has to be propped up at all times. Because he cannot be allowed to fall. After all, he is the face and the body of the party. Down below and deep inside, there is nothing to the party. It is all hollow.
Once you shun ideology, the movement becomes a party. Then it becomes a mere electoral machine. So it has to ‘adjust’. Adjustment means compromises. It becomes acceptable language.
The Leader faces little threat because he believes in nothing. He has not taught the minions to believe in anything, so they, too, cannot threaten. When you believe in nothing, there is nothing that you need to desist from doing if there is some advantage that could be accrued. Like gathering at Manji Sahib on 97th.
The Leader is helped by others. By those outside his party. They, too, are chips of the same block. They, too, are leaders in the same league. "Baki vee sab same ne,” goes the argument. So why change?
"Can one leader be any different from the other? Does any leader live by any ideals?” Then why blame The Leader? Why blame a particular leader? The flaw is systemic. So we can live with The Leader.
No one mentions the "shrinking universe of morals.” The ideas and ideology for the attainment of which the party was founded no longer permeate or radiate into those who are outside the party or organisation, just as it no longer affects those who are inside it.
Once you shun ideology, the movement becomes a party. Then it becomes a mere electoral machine. So it has to ‘adjust’. Adjustment means compromises. It becomes acceptable language. Even acceptable formulation. Soon, it is raised to the level of an ideology.
When you believe in nothing, there is nothing that you need to desist from doing if there is some advantage that could be accrued. Like gathering at Manji Sahib on 97th.
But the transformation doesn’t stop there. Indeed, it has just begun. For the character of the one who has wrested the top office, stamps itself on the entire organisation, on every level of the organisation. His very success legitimises ambition, greed, intrigue and double-dealing.
It becomes imperative for The Leader that the only voices are the ones that hail him. So he ensures that all gatherings unanimously resolve to leave the choice of nominating all office-bearers to him. The party hierarchy comes to consist entirely of nominees of The Leader, and of those who, for the moment, have managed to insinuate themselves into the good books of The Leader.
In reality, the stronger that The Leader and his circle appear, the weaker is the organisation. Power now flows solely from The Leader. Did he not tell you that even when out of power, top civil and police officers take his calls, kowtow to his diktats? Did he not force the mighty Maharaja to drop Section 307 from FIRs against party workers?
"Don’t worry, it is just a matter of time. Four years will pass quickly.” Basically, he was earlier a ruler, now he is waiting to be a ruler. He does not have time and energy for being a leader in the opposition.
People gave The Leader a new job, a job to be a leader in the opposition, is not the Leader of the Opposition. Has he shown up for it? He is not even saying he is the new Opposition. Soon after his defeat, he used to say he was still the ruler. ("DCs, SSPs take my calls!”) Now he says, "Don’t worry, it is just a matter of time. Four years will pass quickly.” Basically, he was earlier a ruler, now he is waiting to be a ruler. He does not have time and energy for being a leader in the opposition.
Clearly, it is a job that people need to look after themselves. The Leader of the Opposition has too many battles to fight against a Bibi Jagir Kaur or a Rana Gurjit Singh. He has little time for real politics and issues. The Akali Dal is too focussed on coming back to power after four more years.
What happens to your life in these four years is your own business. So step up to the plate please.
And that involves understanding why things are the way they are, and what must be done to move forward. It starts by asking questions. It is an onerous task, but one that is most respectable. This is the task that befalls a citizen when leaders fail a polity. Raising questions, pointing fingers, stating facts, calling out bluffs, and refusing to strike false equivalence when the choice is between stark truth and utter lies. You do not have the option of not showing up for work.
The shenanigans are just a side show – for the 97th anniversary of the great party. They weren’t at Manji Sahib, Sri Darbar Sahib, for 96th. At worst, 97th is an extension of the dharna for the right of the party’s candidates to file nominations for polls to local bodies. At best, it is just timepass for another chance in 2022. Till then, the party only needs to count: 97th. 98th. 99th. 100, and hurray! Abhi to party shuru huyee hai…
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